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How to Choose a Snowboard - All-Mountain Advice

By Isaac Laredo ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday February 20, 2019
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The task of purchasing a new snowboard can be daunting. Throughout snowboarding's history, there have been countless brands, styles, and marketing gimmicks that have come and gone. Board companies will never cease pushing the limits in R&D, graphics, shapes, and trends — but for these very reasons, you may have a difficult time choosing one that's best for you. We have filtered through the fluff to help you bypass the gimmicks. Our team has selected boards that feature new technology and shaping, incorporated with traditional designs. The best in class review narrows down the broad field to 10 of the industries highest performing boards. Together these articles will help you pick the best snowboard for your riding style.

Here we'll help you avoid the over-hype and slack verbiage you might get from the manufacturer. Even if you decide on our lowest scoring board, you'll still have a blast on the hill because snowboarding is simply fun. If ripping Turkish locals from the village of Meseköy can shred on a few wooden boards glued together for over 300 years, then you can enjoy one that's a bit more modern. Just look here.

Why All-Mountain?


If you're looking for a board that truly does everything well, or only have the cash for one board, then all-mountain is the choice for you. All-mountain boards are designed to handle every conceivable condition with confidence. Surely there may be boards that can tackle certain conditions better, but you'd be making multiple sacrifices to save one. Whether your primary desire is riding groomers or hard-pack, hitting jumps and park features, dropping cliffs in pow, slashing wind-lips Gerry Lopez style, or simply riding the trees on a snowy day, an all-mountain board will get you through it.

Making the most of some low-angle pow.
Making the most of some low-angle pow.

Different Types of Board



Freestyle/Park

Freestyle boards are generally lighter, shorter, softer-flexing, and twin-tipped for going switch (backward). They are designed most specifically for jumping and hitting park features like rails, boxes, and other obstacles. Made to ride regular and switch they provide equal performance in both directions. These fun sticks are more akin to skateboards than any other type of snowboard and are often used in such a way. Based on their freestyle objective they often struggle in edging and float in powder. However, the generally excel in pop and playfulness.

Freeride

Freeride boards are designed for charging steeper technical lines and ripping powder more than others. They are most commonly directional in shape with stance options that allow you to get more nose on those deep days without compromising your ability to go switch when you need to. The directional design gives it optimal performance in that one direction. If you don't ride a lot of switch then directional options provide an enhanced experience. Great for backcountry riding or for trying to mimic your favorite Jeremy Jones lines at Squaw Valley.

Powder Centric

You can ride any kind of snowboard in powder, but you may have to work harder than you want to if you're on the wrong board on the deepest day. Powder-specific boards do one thing very well, and that's floating in deep snow. Most have wider and longer noses with tapered and shorter tails or swallowtails. With modern technology, these shapes can thrive on groomers and chopped up surfaces. The short and tapered, or swallowtail design allows the back of the board to dive deeper into the snow which helps to bring the nose up higher facilitating more floatation. This also makes riding backward and stomping huge airs off jumps and cliffs more difficult because there is less tail. You won't often find a backcountry freestyler on a powder-specific board for this reason. If you like to simply ride powder while going forward, this type of ride is good for you. These boards excel in powder flotation and some do in edging and stability at speed. Sacrifices these board designs make can be popping, stability at speed or edging metrics.

The Bits and Pieces — What Makes for an All Mountain board?



Topsheet


Usually fiberglass, different types of plastic, and sometimes wood, the top sheet is the upper surface of the board. A substantial portion of the boards' flex and stiffness is derived for the type of top sheet. Carbon top sheets will provide a much stiffer ride than its fiberglass counterpart. The other primary function is elemental protection for the core of the snowboard to prevent water-logging and promote longer life of your board.

Subtle and intricate graphic on the top sheet of the Arbor Bryan Iguchi Pro.
Subtle and intricate graphic on the top sheet of the Arbor Bryan Iguchi Pro.

Core


The core is the PB and J of the sandwich. Depending on what materials are used, the core gives the board much of its strength, pop, and overall feel on the snow. Most often the core will be made of some form of wood such as poplar, bamboo, and less often foam or harder woods like maple. Poplar is pretty standard as it has great flex, strength, and price point. Be wary of cores made of foam, balsa wood or some blend of the two. While light and good performing, a large sacrifice to durability is made here. Our tester has seen one solid rock hit result in the core coming out of the top sheet. Each type has a distinct feel, and character, as to how it affects the ride. Kevlar and carbon fiber stringer can be strategically places to stiffen certain places of the board.

Base


The bottom of the board, or riding surface. Unless you made your board at home, the base is normally made with high-density polyethylene, or P-Tex, as it's commonly referred to. The two basic types are sintered and extruded. A sintered base is more costly to produce but is tougher, rides faster and holds wax better, but is a bit more difficult to repair. Extruded bases are less expensive to manufacture, less durable but easier to fix, and make for a little slower ride.

The sintered base of the Capita Kazu Pro
The sintered base of the Capita Kazu Pro

Edge



Metal edge detail on the Rossignol One. Here  because of the clear base material  you can actually see how the edge looks sandwiched in the board.
Metal edge detail on the Rossignol One. Here, because of the clear base material, you can actually see how the edge looks sandwiched in the board.

If it weren't for edges most couldn't control where they were going and carve would be relegated to only the softest days. We love edges because they make snowboarding and skiing versatile and safe. They are made of steel and come sharp from the factory. They can come in a variety of different styles to provide better grip. Examples include the Underbite on the Editors Choice Winner the Yes Optimistic or the Magne-Traction on the Lib Tech Travis Rice Pointy Pro. Magne-traction is a serrated edge, designed to cut through the hard pack with more surface contact to give you a better grip. It can really help lock you into turns whether you're on cord or hard-pack and really helps you out on that East Coast blue ice. Adversely, they can make it tougher to come out of turns and can be catchy at slow speeds. It can also make you feel like you can't really track perfectly straight while trying to b-line it. Standard edges tend to have a little less bite on really hard snow but otherwise are the standard. One of the largest keys to edge hold is maintaining and tuning them.

Underbite. A form of edge disruption that increases grip on hard snow and creates energetic turns.
Underbite. A form of edge disruption that increases grip on hard snow and creates energetic turns.

Vertical profile of Mervin's Magne traction.
Vertical profile of Mervin's Magne traction.

Sidewall


Sidewalls are the area between the edge and top sheet and provide protection to the core materials, as well as some dampening if rubber is used. All the boards you'll see in this test are the sandwich type of construction where the sidewall is displayed. Other types (not tested) include cap and half-cap. For the environmentally conscious it is worth knowing that the traditional ABS plastic is one of the more harmful components used in snowboard construction. Other options exist such as the soy-based side wall used in the Lib Tech Travis Rice Pointy Pro

Sidewall detail of the Salomon Sickstick; A mix of cork and bamboo.
Sidewall detail of the Salomon Sickstick; A mix of cork and bamboo.

Inserts


These are the female, t-nut style, threaded nuts that are placed in the board during construction to which you attach your bindings too. Most manufacturers utilize a multi-pack of inserts under each binding to give you plenty of stance width options. Some companies, like Burton, use inserts in a super convenient slider track, which is nice for changing your stance in less time than the standard four-hole style.

Insert Style and Binding Compatibility


For all boards tested here, two insert and binding mounting types exist. All bindings mount with screws, but there are two different styles. All brands here with the exception of Burton, utilize four-hole insert packs.

Four-Hole


The bindings mount using an adjustable disk in which four machine screws are placed through and tightened firmly into the inserts of the board. Before you tighten the screws, you can adjust your stance angle, width, and centering from toe to heel. Once tightened, they should not move.

Standard four hole inserts on the Jones Explorer.
Standard four hole inserts on the Jones Explorer.

Slider Style AKA EST


Burton's trademarked Channel system is much different looking than the standard four-hole system. It uses only two screws and inserts per binding and allows for quick and simple stance changes. If buying a Burton board with The Channel, then you must also buy Burton bindings labeled EST. Standard four-hole bindings will not fit on this type of board.

The Burton EST channel system.
The Burton EST channel system.

All Mountain Options


Flex


This is usually measured using a number scale like 1-10. One being the softest and 10 being the stiffest. Manufacturers make finding this measurement easy because it can be an important one. The stiffer the board the more pop — typically, but we've found that stiffer boards also fight the pow more, and are not as playful. Softer boards are typically more forgiving and nimbler, but when you go to ollie they lack the response you'd hoped for. Your weight plays quite a role in stiffness. Simply put: the more you weigh, the stiffer the board you should buy, or the larger size of a softer model you should ride and vice-versa — unless you really like noodles.

Camber Profile


Camber vs. Reverse Camber (Rocker) vs. Flat vs. a combination of all three! Most board companies have their own base profile designs each with their trademarked names for them — Banana, Flying-V, etc. Fully cambered boards are referred to as traditional camber and were the first profile used. The profile looks like a frowning face. They are poppy and very responsive, they'll hold turns well and are very stable at speed and those big air landings.

A cambered Burton board on top  and a Banana'd Lib-Tech on bottom
A cambered Burton board on top, and a Banana'd Lib-Tech on bottom

Reverse cambered boards have a smiley face profile to them to lift the nose and tail off of the ground. They feel more playful all around but lack the same ollie response as cambered and don't track straight quite as well at slower speeds. But because the nose and tail essentially begin rising earlier than on cambered, they tend to float better in powder. There is noticeably less chance of catching your edges near the tip and tail while spinning on flat ground or on park features. For learning how to snowboard this profile will substantially help you to stay on your feet rather than your stomach

Hybrid profiles are common in all mountain boards to manage the drawback of one profile and provide the benefits of others.

Weight


Because most brands have varying dimensions and materials, you will find varying weights. The differences may be too little to notice in the shop and carving. You're likely to notice the added weight when jumping, spinning and playing around on side hits. Of course don't buy the heaviest board, especially if its a tank and to large for you to have fun on. In contrast lighter boards can comprise on strength like those made with a foam or balsa core.

Length


Too long and you'll have a tougher time initiating turns, which can be dangerous in tight terrain like trees and couloirs, but you'll stomp airs in the pow with more confidence. Too short and you'll wallow in the deep, being left to wonder where your friends went, but you'll spin faster on jumps and have less baggage to clear when popping on and off rails. Just right and you'll feel confident all over the mountain.

It comes down to what conditions you will primarily be riding. Powderhound? From your chin to your forehead works. Park and hard-pack? Somewhere between your collar bone and chin is usually good. While this our general guidelines for sizing, we recommend you look at the sizing chart for the particular board you interested. The board can feel how heavy you are not how tall you are. Our tester has a 147 and a 162 in his quiver.

Width


Pick a board that is just wide enough so your toes and heels don't overhang and drag, but not so wide that you can see the top sheet protruding beyond your boots. Drag prevents you from really laying your turns down on those high-speed days and causes you to slip out when it's anything other than pow. The overhang will slow you down when you're riding the deep stuff and can be particularly dangerous on steep, hard-pack terrain! Losing edge control above exposure can get dicey really quickly. Choose wisely and get as streamlined as possible.

Measure your boots from toe to heel and compare that with the waist width of the boards you're interested in. Keep in mind that the waist width of the board is narrower than where your bindings will be mounted. If you can physically see how your boots sit on the board, it'll help a bunch. We'd fully recommend having all three components together when choosing a board. Board+Boots+Bindings.

What likes like a visually small amount of width can be a significant difference in the experience of the board.
What likes like a visually small amount of width can be a significant difference in the experience of the board.

Sidecut


Sidecut is measured using the radius of a circle in meters. The larger the measurement, the bigger and longer the arc of your turns will be. At high speed on a nice wide groomer, long sidecuts feel really cool. Shorter radius sidecuts make quicker turns and feel responsive, playful and versatile.

Bonus Things



Graphics


What's it matter how it's made!? The graphics are why you should choose the board you do — above all else! There is some truth to this. Think about it. You will be looking at the top of this board every time you're on the chair while tweaking big airs, or when you lean the board against the wall at home after a long day of shredding. You have to live with your purchase, so make sure you like the way it looks. In the offseason, a beautiful snowboard can become functional art that you're stoked to look at. When you walk up to the board selection at the shop, what's the first thing that catches your eye? Check it out and see if it fits all your other requirements. If so, you're done! Easy enough.

Top tier graphics of the Jones Explorer.
Top tier graphics of the Jones Explorer.


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